The Power of Promise

“Since promising is the key to identity, it is the very essence of marital love. Why? Because it is our promises that give us a stable identity, and without a stable identity, it is impossible to have a stable relationship.

Somewhere a father is telling himself, “I wish my daughter would pack up, leave home, and never come back; God knows she has driven us crazy.” But he remembers a promise he made when she was baptized, and he sticks with her in hurting love.

Somewhere a woman is telling herself, “I want to get out of this marriage and start over with someone who really loves me; God knows the clod I married has given me reason for cashing him in.” But she remembers a promise she made when she married him and she sticks with him in hopeful love.

Somewhere a minister is telling himself, “I want to chuck this job and get into something with a better payoff; God knows my congregation has given me second-degree burnout.” But he remembers the promise he made when he was ordained, and he sticks with the church in pastoral love.

Some people still make promises and keep those they make. When they do, they help make life around them more stably human. Promise keeping is a powerful means of grace in a time when people hardly depend on each other to remember and live by their word.

Some people still have ships they will not abandon, even when the ship seems to be sinking.

Some people still have causes they will not desert, even though the cause seems lost.

Some people have loved ones they will not forsake, even though they are a pain in the neck.

But why? Why make any promises at all? And if you do make them, why keep them?

…The only way to overcome the unpredictability of your future is the power of promising. If forgiving is the only remedy for your painful past, promising is the only remedy for your uncertain future…

…When we make a promise we take it on our feeble wills to keep a future rendezvous with someone in circumstances we cannot possibly predict. We take it on ourselves to create our future with someone else no matter what fate or destiny may have in store…

But it is not only that I know myself in the mirror of my promises. My people, the ones who belong to me, who depend on me, also know me by the promises I have made. What I promise is what I am and will be to them. Only if they really know what I am can they live with me in trust. They know me in the important way, not by reading my analyst’s notes, but by knowing my power to keep promises.” Louis Smedes


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